Healthcare, Adoptees, and Open Adoption in N.J.

Since the Health Care bill passed, there has been a lot of buzz around what will change and how each state will be affected.  Thinking about health care got me thinking about adoptees’ rights to their health information.  For most folks, you’ve heard me say this time and time again-adoptees don’t have access to their family medical histories.  Of course that is slowly changing domestically, but for international adoptees, we still are not afforded the basic right to our medical past.  And like always, I DO acknowledge the implications on birth parents’ privacy.

How many adult adoptees go to the doctor’s office for a routine check-up and are asked to fill out a sheet for your “family medical history?”  How many times do we have to explain to the doctor that we don’t know?  For most non-adoptees, providing this information becomes as routine as filling out your social security number or date of birth.  But for adoptees, it’s often painful as we are once again reminded that we have no control over our genetics and no way of knowing what may be in store for us.

Open adoption in U.S. is slowly turning the tables on this.  For instance, New Jersey is incredibly close to passing their own bill to open adoptions.  What does this mean for adoptees and birth parents?

1)  Birth parents have a grace period of a year to report to the registrar that they do not wish to be contacted by their child.  With in that year, adoptees would be given the opportunity to petition their adoption agency for nonidentifying medical histories.  However, after that one year grace period, adult adoptees, legal guardians, adoptive parents, and adult direct descendants (whose parent has died) would all have the opportunity to petition for the birth certificate.

2)  Provide adoptees with access to their medical histories.

“Children didn’t give up those rights when they were born, nor should we expect them to,” Vitale said. “This legislation strikes a balance.”

3)  Birth parents would be given the opportunity to decide how they wish to be contacted by their child in the future.

4)  If the birth parent does not wish to be contacted, they would be asked to fill out a medical history and “cultural information.”  However, if the birth parent does not fill out this information with in 60 days, their right to remain anonymous would be denied.

The way I see it, things are improving.  On one hand, adoptees are afforded new rights to retain their medical histories.  On the other hand, many birth parents are forced to make tough decisions relatively quickly.  As much as I believe adoptees should have access to their medical histories, it’s hard to endorse a law that also forces them to do so at the expense of their own privacy wishes.  It’s always hard when it comes to these laws.  And unfortunately, I think many states have struggled to find the right balance between protecting the rights of adoptees while keeping the birth parent’s rights to privacy intact.

New Jersey’s assembly is up next and must approve the bill before it is signed by the governor.  I’ll keep my eye on this, but if any of you get any updates please let me know!


N.J. Senate approves open adoption birth records bill

By Peggy Ackermann/Statehouse Bureau

March 22, 2010, 8:54PM

Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-LedgerView from above the New Jersey Senate Chamber at the Statehouse in Trenton in January.
TRENTON — Adult adoptees moved a step closer to being able to get copies of their original birth certificates and medical histories when the state Senate voted today to open adoption records.

The bill, approved 27-10, includes protections for biological parents who want to remain anonymous, but opponents in the Senate said it does not go far enough and that parents’ privacy could still be invaded.

Biological parents who do not want their identities revealed have a year from enactment to notify the state registrar of their wishes.

“Many of them may not know what we are doing here,” Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) said of biological mothers, adding that would not give them the opportunity to protect their identities. He suggested the bill be reworked to protect the rights of everyone involved.

AP Photo/Mel EvansSen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex).But Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), a sponsor of the bill (S799), said adoptees already use online resources to track down their biological parents and there is no process for that or control over it.

He also said adoptees have a right to their medical histories, citing as an example a woman who cannot tell her doctor if there is ovarian or breast cancer in her family.

“Children didn’t give up those rights when they were born, nor should we expect them to,” Vitale said. “This legislation strikes a balance.”

Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-LedgerSenator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), one of the sponsors of the open adoption records bill.The legislation has been before the Legislature in one form or another for 30 years. In that time, religious leaders, anti-abortion activists and the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed it.

“While we heard compelling testimony when this bill was before the Health Committee, the most compelling argument to me is the importance of accurate family medical histories in making major health care decisions,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), a sponsor.

Under the bill, biological parents who want to remain anonymous would notify the state registrar. During the one-year allotted period, adoptees would be able to contact the agencies that handled their adoptions to get nonidentifying medical information, including a family medical history, that could alert them to any genetic predispositions they may carry for certain illnesses.

After the opt-out period ends, adopted adults, adult direct descendants of adoptees who died and adoptive parents or guardians of a minor would be able to request copies of original birth certificates.

Biological parents would be required to file a preference form stating how they would want to be contacted — directly, through an intermediary or not at all. If they do not want to be contacted, they would have to submit medical and cultural information that would be provided to adoptees. Those adoptees also would receive redacted birth certificates.

Biological parents who opt out and fail to provide medical, social and cultural histories within 60 days would not be granted anonymity in the event their children seek them out.

The bill still needs Assembly approval before it can go to Gov. Chris Christie for his signature.


2 Comments on “Healthcare, Adoptees, and Open Adoption in N.J.

  1. I agree with you, this is tough in regard to the privacy of the birthparents, however I feel at this point in time we have learned that adoptees have a right to and deserve any and all available information pertaining to their histories. I can imagine having to make tough decisions in a short period of time isn’t easy, but if it means easy access to records for the child in future, it’s got to be done.

    New to your blog- really like it!

    • Hi Kae,

      Thanks for the comment, and thanks for stopping by! You’re right, I definitely feel that adoptees deserve access to any and all available information. In the end I do believe it is a step in the right direction though, so I’m happy that this is legislation is moving along.


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